Drills for Nifty Feet
Donald A. Chu, Ph.D., PT, ATC, CSCS
Ever wonder how certain players can be so “nifty”
on the court. Their footwork is quick and precise and they always
look like they are in balance. You wonder how some of these
players can make things look so easy. The fact is that these
players are “centered” over their base of support.
What does that mean you ask?
This means that the player’s center
of gravity (a point on the body around which their weight is
distributed) is always in an imaginary area between their two
feet (base of support) as they are moving laterally, setting
up for shots, and moving up and back on the court, it is possible
to get the body’s center of gravity outside the body and
outside the base of support. When this happens the player is
usually accelerating in a specific direction and is “out
of balance”. Being out of balance is good when you want
to move in a specific direction, and bad when you want to change
Tennis players need to learn to move their feet quickly, keeping
their center of gravity over their base of support so they can
start, stop, and change direction quickly. Here are some drills
that can help the tennis player learn how to move in ways that
teach the “art” of staying balanced while they are
The following drills can be performed on the court or any large
area that allows the cones to be set up at, or close to the
prescribed distances. The equipment needed to do all of these
drills is a maximum of six plastic cones. A stop watch gives
the coach and tennis player objective feedback for goal-setting
and goals to be accomplished.
# 1: The Cross
Equipment: 5 plastic cones
Set-Up: Arrange the cones in the following pattern.
Action: Start by running forward to a point in front of the
center cone, then change direction by shuffling laterally and
begin to weave a figure 8 around the cones. After shuffling
laterally through all three cones, accelerate forward, running
around the forward cone and finishing back to the start. This
action can be timed to see how long it takes to navigate the
1) Repeat the drill going both left and right when starting
the weave portion of the drill.
2) Have the player repeat the drill three times in a row to
stress anaerobic endurance.
Drill # 2: The Snake
Equipment: 6 plastic cones
Set-Up: Arrange the six cones 3-4 feet apart along the baseline.
Action: Start at one end and weave through the cones using a
lateral shuffle. Do this against time for three repetitions.
Drill # 3: The Exchange
Equipment: 3 plastic cones
Set-Up: Place two cones on the center of the baseline, and
one on the service line.
Action: Start on the baseline, pick up one of the cones and
prepare to sprint to the service line. On “go”,
sprint to the service line and exchange cones. Place the first
cone down before picking up the second one. Repeat this action
by sprinting back to the baseline and exchange the cones there.
Repeat this action for 30 seconds and count the number of pick-ups
for total score.
Drill # 4: The Sidewinder
Equipment: 3 plastic cones
Set-Up: Arrange all three cones on the baseline with the middle
cone on the center of the baseline and the other cones 3-4 feet
on either side of the first cone.
Action: Start at one end of the cones and begin shuffling laterally,
weaving through the cones to the right or left then moving in
the opposite direction. Once having weaved all the way through
the cones three times, take a cross-over step and sprint to
the sideline. Touching the sideline, return by shuffling along
the baseline and begin weaving in the opposite direction for
a total of three times, then take a crossover step and sprint
to the opposite sideline. Repeat the drill until each sideline
is touched three times.
Drill # 5: Shuffle Split
Equipment: 4 plastic cones
Set-Up: 3 cones placed along the baseline as in the previous
drill. The fourth cone is placed 4 feet in front of the service
Action: Weave through the cones starting from either the left
or right side. After finishing the weave, sprint forward and
perform a split step at the forward cone. Then back pedal to
the opposite side of the cones in the starting area and repeat
the drill until six split steps are performed.
beginning any exercise program consult with your physician.)
Dr. Donald Chu is a member of the USTA Sport Science Committe.This
article appeared in the USTA Sport Science For Tennis Newsletter,
Spring 1995 issue.